SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 19:19-21; MT 5:33-37 ]
We are all called by God in different ways in life. To be called means that we are chosen for a particular mission in the plan of God. And the truth is that God calls every one of us without exception to a particular vocation in life. Of course, not all calls are dramatic, as what we read in the bible, such as the burning bush of Moses, or that of Gideon, or the vision of Ezekiel or even that of Isaiah’s vision of the cherubim and seraphim. In fact, most of our call stories are more like that of Elisha in today’s scripture readings. He was busy working in the field ploughing with the oxen. The Lord too calls us in our daily events and activities. How does God call us? He would normally send someone to call us. In the case of Elisha, God had instructed the Prophet Elijah to anoint him to be his successor. (1 Kgs 19:16)
But before Elisha could be Elijah’s successor, he first had to be an apprentice. We must first be disciples. He began by serving Elisha. (cf 2 Kgs 3:11) He served Elijah with a meal. If we intend to respond to a vocation in life, we must have some first-hand experience of whether this vocation is what the Lord is inviting us to. Before the disciples of John the Baptist decided to join Jesus, they asked the Lord, “‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” (Jn 1:38f)
So too when the Lord called the rest of the disciples to be His apostles. They needed to be His disciples before they could be His apostles. The mistake of some who feel drawn to join priestly or religious life is that they do not take time to see for themselves which order or congregation suits them before they respond. As a result, some move from one congregation to another like a rolling stone that gathers no moss. This is true for secular vocations in life as well. The act of Elijah throwing his cloak over Elisha was the moment of anointing. Instead of being anointed with oil, he was covered with his mantle. That mantle is the spirit of Elijah. Elisha was to follow Elijah until the day he was ready to take over his role. Indeed, just before Elijah was taken away in a chariot, he asked Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” (2 Kgs 2:9) With this mantle, Elisha would be given the power to perform the same miracles as Elijah. When he used the mantle to strike the water at the river Jordan, “the water was parted to the one side and to the other and Elisha walked over.” (2 Kgs 2:14)
Discipleship is part of the discernment process of clarifying one’s call. Only when we start walking with the Lord in the vocation which we are attracted to, will we then see the signs that will confirm that call. These signs are seen in our talents and gifts that we could use for the ministry or our work. We will have mentors, friends, and even strangers affirming that what we are doing is giving life to others. In other words, there will be signs and indications that this is our calling as seen by the fruits of our work. But most of all, we find ourselves empowered, enriched, and passionate in what we are doing. It is a joy notwithstanding that there will be many challenges and difficulties. Elisha’s calling did not exclude the need to suffer or that he was not aware of Elijah’s dark night of the soul. (cf 1 Kgs 19:4) He would have seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears, how the prophet experienced danger, loneliness, despair, and opposition from the powerful people in the land, the kings and the false prophets. But generally, any real vocation is not only life-giving to others but it also gives life to the person himself or herself. Responding to God’s call must exclude naivety that being at the service of God is a guarantee of a life of bliss, pleasure, and enjoyment. On the contrary, it is a life of sacrifice.
Indeed, responding to God’s call always entails sacrifice and a clear decision. When we waver in our call, we will never be able to achieve much or be fruitful in our vocation. A radical response was asked by the Lord in today’s gospel. “All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” In the case of Elisha, he took the courage to make a break from his parents and his wealth. He must have come from a wealthy family because that was the twelfth pair of oxen he was using to plough the field. Most likely the family-owned land and property. But when called by Elijah, Elisha was ready to let go of his future prospects of a good and luxurious life. He made the decision to say a radical “yes” to Elijah when he “took the pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the plough for cooking the oxen, then gave to his men, who ate.” Indeed, a commitment to discipleship means to be totally committed to the Lord.
This was what the Lord demanded from His disciples too. When the Lord calls, there is no question of delay. One must not hesitate. Our decision must be firm and decisive. Because the call is from God, we do not delay our response. To the would-be follower, “the Lord said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him,’ No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (cf Lk 9:59-62) When Peter and Andrew were called, they immediately left their nets and followed Him. (cf Mt 4:20) So too, James and John immediately left their boat and followed Him. (cf Mt 4:22) Likewise, the call of Levi. He was sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. (Mk 2:14)
A decisive response means that one is focused and singular-minded. If we are still unsure, half-hearted, indecisive, it means that we have not yet heard the call clearly. It means we still need time for discernment and listening to the prompting of the Spirit. So long as we are not singular-minded, we will be distracted along the way by other voices and other attractions. We will not last in the vocation we have chosen because we are torn from within. There are those who undertake a new career or join the seminary or a religious order but because they lack singularity of purpose when under formation, they will always be doubting themselves, especially when they meet with trials and loneliness. Instead of seeing the obstacles in their formation as stepping stones for growth and as part of the learning curve, they see them as signs that they are not called. But when one is focused, the “never say die” attitude will give one the strength to persevere regardless of the sufferings that one has to go through. This is because we know that the Lord will qualify those whom He has chosen.
Today, the gospel invites us to live a life of integrity. When Jesus addressed the abuses of taking oaths in His day, it was not so much a question of when an oath can be broken or considered less binding and serious. All oaths, regardless, bring God as a witness implicitly or explicitly. God sees everything we do and He reads our hearts. We can take our oaths and promises, but if we do not observe them, we are not just cheating God but we cheat ourselves and of course, those who trust us. One day, God will allow us to be exposed and our hidden secrets will be made known. So it is therefore of utmost importance that before we make a commitment, we must think through the costs and sacrifices involved in that decision.
Living the truth demands commitment and sacrifices. So in responding to God’s call, we must be sincere and not cheat ourselves or the organization that we join. Truthfulness to whichever organization we join is for our own good so that we have clarity of mind and singularity of purpose. So when we want to say, “Yes” let it be a definite “Yes”, otherwise, we should not be committing ourselves to something that we cannot do, giving false hope to those who have trust in us. Indeed, as the Lord warns us, “anything more than this comes from the evil one.” But if we live a life of integrity in response to God’s call, we will find peace and joy! Of course, fidelity to one’s vocation ultimately is more than just relying on our strength but on the grace of God given to us when we commit ourselves to Him in prayer.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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